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How To Become Better With Pickle Jar Theory

Prerna is a thinker, observer, reader & writer. She is always curious to learn. She is a strong believer in human potential.


What comes to your mind when you hear pickle jar?

Well, if you are fond of pickles just like me then it is mouth-watering for you.

But I am not going to discuss anything about the pickle, though I like pickles. In fact, this quick-learning post is about a powerful personal development tool and it is popular for time management. And yes, it’s called “The Pickle Jar Theory.”

So, let’s start it this way. But before that you must have heard about the 80/20 rule; which asserts that 80% of outcomes (or outputs) result from 20% of all causes (or inputs). Similarly in work, a goal of the 80-20 rule is to identify inputs that are potentially the most productive and make them the priority. This is also known as The Pareto Principle.’

Now here comes the real problem. You are so occupied and piled up with the to-do list that you end up having a 20/80 rule just the opposite of Pareto’s Principle. That means 20% output from the 80% input.

So, where are you going wrong and what is the solution for it?

Well, it is best answered by Seneca, a Roman philosopher in his book ‘On the shortness of Life’ –

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”

“Life is long enough and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.”

The above quote may have been written nearly two thousand years ago, but it rings true even today.

So, it means we use time, we spend time, we even waste time but are we investing time?

Well, this brings me back to the topic; The Pickle Jar Theory

Indeed, this theory will help you to learn time management and how to well invest your time for more best results.

The Pickle Jar Theory uses a metaphor to illustrate an essential point of time management.

Here’s the metaphor: Imagine a pickle jar and you have four things that need to go in that Jar. Let’s say some rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. Now, fill the Jar with just water then there will be no room for the other three things. Right?

Or pour all the sand in, add the pebbles, and then try to fit the rocks last – you won’t have enough space for rocks. Right?

But if you fill the Jar with big rocks first. Now try putting pebbles in it, they’ll fall into the empty spaces between rocks. It’s full now right? Well, how about pouring sand into it? As you started with big rocks, then pebble so, now sand can slide through them. Lets try pouring water as well and it will make its own way through the other things. Now I think the Jar is full.

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Well, now understand it this way

  • JAR represents your time.
  • Rocks are your important tasks.
  • Pebbles are less important tasks.
  • Sand represents average tasks that take up more time than they are worth.
  • Lastly water which acts as the least important task.

The purpose of the theory is that the jar symbolizes your time and capacity. The rocks are your big priorities. It represents the most important tasks that have serious consequences if not accomplished on time.

The pebbles are less important or less integral tasks. They can be your daily tasks with average importance. Everything can’t be on top of your priority list. Right?

You also have other things to do that you have to squeeze in your life, this is represented by sand. It can be anything like phone calls, emails, social media interactions, etc.

Then there is the water. And from my personal experience, if you start the day with water it will take all the space of the jar. Then you will be left with no space for other important things. Water is everything else you have to consider which gets in the way of the bigger things.

The important purpose of the pickle jar is that you make time for everything. If you allocate your time correctly to your priorities, everything will fit in the jar!

Things to remember!

Remember, during the day it can be hard to distinguish your big rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. They all seem important enough to do that right away. Avoid worrying about the little tasks.

For example, checking e-mails, sending an invoice, buying new software, visiting your favorite blog, are all little stones. Of course, this varies from person to person and the work profile. The sand in your jar might be the unexpected meeting or telephone conversation that you have not planned for. And the water is the little things like clearing your desktop, inbox, etc.

That’s why try to make a weekly plan and prioritize your work for each day. Before you plan to do anything, remember empty jar is your day. And the rocks are the most important tasks that you need to complete. Focus on few things to complete in a day rather than putting twenty to thirty tasks in a list that you know is not going to complete in a day.

At the end of the day check your to-do list and reschedule your next day if some same-day tasks are not accomplished. This is quite natural to happen because you may get into something which takes a longer time than you thought. But your main focus should be on the things that move you measurably closer toward your goal. And that is your rocks, it shouldn’t be like you are forwarding your major task to another day in replacement of sand, pebbles, or water.



Sometimes we try and do too much, and end up getting nothing productive done instead.

This theory offers a simple lesson that if one fulfills the major tasks first, there will be room to complete other tasks as well as get time for leisure.

So, follow the pickle jar theory, plan your day by deciding which tasks are your rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. At the end of the week when you reflect on your worksheet, you’ll realize that you’ve been more productive and accomplished large tasks.

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Prerna Dhulekar


Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on May 10, 2021:

Thanks Prerna. The pickle jar theory really gives a great insight on managing time by focusing first on the most important tasks and getting the maximum out of a day. Thanks for this useful bit of time management advise.

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